For journalists, particularly those who work for newspapers, the answers to those questions can be found in The Associated Press Stylebook.
The AP Stylebook is the “bible” for most journalists around the world. The AP Stylebook was created in 1953 as a guide for newspapers. The first edition contained 60 pages.
The last stylebook that I worked with was published in 2010. It contained 458 pages. It has been updated many times through the years.
“Far more than just a collection of rules, the book became part dictionary, part encyclopedia, part textbook — an eclectic source of information for writers and editors of any publication,” wrote Tom Curley, Associated Press president.
Some larger newspapers, such as the New York Times, have their own stylebook that reporters and editors follow. We even thought about creating our own at the Tribune, but we never followed through with the idea.
There is also the Chicago Manual of Style that is more geared toward authors, editors and publishers of books. There are some similarities in the two stylebooks, but there also are many differences.
I’ve always worked with The AP Stylebook.
According to the stylebook, the preferred usage of cancel in the past tense is canceled, even though most dictionaries have it spelled both ways. And it is school buses; not school busses as I have seen on some signs in the Grand Haven school district. While most of us use the postal abbreviation of Michigan (MI), the stylebook calls for journalists to make it Mich.
Through the years, I had readers take exception to some of the usage. I could understand their concerns. The stylebook doesn’t always follow proper English.
But for newspapers, the stylebook has been a good guide for consistency. Some newspapers are better than others in adhering to the rules of The AP Stylebook.
When I worked on the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Ariz., the publisher — a former newspaper editor — was a stickler for use of AP style. I used to edit the Sunday paper, and when I arrived for work the following Monday, I would find a stack of clipped articles marked in red. He circled all of the style errors.
I was embarrassed. I would quickly shove the clippings in my desk drawer, hoping that none of the reporters saw the huge stack. I was determined to eliminate the errors, so I took my stylebook home and began to study.
As time went by, the stack on my desk grew smaller and smaller. And, on one Monday, there were no clippings at all. Did the publisher forget to mark the paper? I thought. But that morning, the publisher approached my desk with a big grin and shook my hand. He had succeeded in making me more “style conscious.”
After I took over as managing editor, I have to admit that I wasn’t as diligent as I should have been about following the style rules. Fortunately, Tribune Night/Web Editor Mark Brooky picked up the slack. Mark, who I promoted to copy editor, became very good at learning the stylebook and urging reporters to follow it. He would send us e-mails reminding us when we made a style error.
As well as providing useful information, The AP Stylebook even has a section on social media guidelines. The stylebook says that social networks should never be used as a shortcut when another method — such as picking up the telephone or knocking on a door — would provide more reliable information.
I still find myself writing to follow AP style. Family members will sometimes ask me to read something they wrote. I would point out style errors, forgetting that they weren’t writing for a newspaper.
The AP Stylebook will always play a role in my writings.